Giselle Hale beats out Republican for top-two spot in race for assembly seat

REDWOOD CITY — In the contest to replace Kevin Mullin in the California Assembly, Mayor Giselle Hale will go head to head against Diane Papan in the November runoff.

Latest election results show Papan continues to hold her significant lead against six other opponents with 41.71% of the vote while Hale has climbed to 19.74% ahead of Republican Mark Gilham with 19.57% to eke out the top-two spot. Democratic Socialist James Coleman of South San Francisco came in fourth place with 11.24% of the vote.

“I’m so grateful for the support from the community and proud of the honest, values-driven campaign we waged,” Hale said in a statement. “With these results, San Mateo County is showing us that Big Oil, PG&E and other special interest groups couldn’t buy the election in June and we’ll show them that again in November.”

The race for Mullin’s seat came in the wake of political shifting among Peninsula politicos after U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier said in 2020 that she would retire. Speier’s announcement prompted Mullin — whose previous district now is part of the new District 21 due to redistricting — to run for her congressional seat.

Assembly District 21, as recently re-drawn by the California Citizen Redistricting Commission, encompasses eastern San Mateo County and includes the cities of Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Millbrae, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo and portions of South San Francisco.

(Photo by Fiona Chan, Courtesy of Diane Papan) 

Hale has been involved in Redwood City politics for the past eight years — four of them as councilwoman — and was last re-elected in 2018 as the top vote getter. She became mayor in December 2021, and while on the council has been a strong advocate for local families and marginalized communities.

Before being elected to the council, Hale served on the Redwood City Planning Commission and on the Board of the Redwood City Education Foundation. She was also on the leadership advisory team for the National Partnership for Women and Families, working to secure sick days and parental leave for working parents across the country.

Hale noted that despite a more conservative primary electorate, and $1.3 million being spent on behalf of her opponents by “conservative corporate PACs funded in part by big oil and PG&E,” Papan was still not able to get a majority of the vote to avoid a run-off.

Like Assemblyman Ash Kalra of San Jose before her, Hale is hoping that voters will be more engaged in November and vote for her instead of Papan.

“In previous midterm elections, there’s been nearly a 30% increase in turnout in San Mateo County between the primary and the general — from 44.3% turnout in the 2018 primary to 72.6% turnout in the 2018 general,” Hale said. “There are likely hundreds of thousands of voters who have not yet cast their ballots for my opponent and are likely to vote in the general election. I have faith — much like now-Assemblymember Ash Kalra did in his own 2016 race with similar primary election dynamics — that voters will reject the lies being told by corporate super PACs and listen to the truth.”

Meanwhile, Papan celebrated her current two-to-one lead and told this news organization that she’s confident she will maintain it to reach Sacramento.

Peninsula’s old guard will remember the Papan name. Papan is member of a political dynasty started by Assembly “Dean” Lou Papan, who served in the legislative chamber from 1973 to 1986, then again from 1996 to 2002. He died in 2007, leaving a legacy as “The Enforcer” for his ability to shepherd votes in Sacramento.

Diane Papan has had a long history in political work on the Peninsula. In addition to her seven years of experience on the San Mateo City Council, she has served on the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County, San Mateo County Council of Cities, the San Mateo County Express Lanes Joint Powers Authority and the Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency board.

Papan also is the director of John’s Closet, a Peninsula nonprofit that provides clothing for needy school-age children from Daly City to Millbrae.

“For me, it’s a two-to-one lead and I just look forward to bringing my message to the voters,” Papan said in an interview. “I’m enormously proud that we lead in all cities in the district. It’s going to be a tough summer, but I do think the voters will be receptive to our message.”

Papan wants to focus the remainder of her campaign on the issues, including climate change, childhood education and homeowership.

“Now we move onto the General Election,” Papan said in a statement to her supporters. “I intend to use my position as the undisputed front-runner to make this campaign about the truth and how now, more than ever, we need proven, tested leadership to work to find real solutions to the most pressing issues of our generation.”

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